It is the season for graduations. For many of us this rite of passage was celebrated by our attendance at a commencement ceremony as a pageant to celebrate our preparation to “commence” the next stage of our lives. I do remember my high school and college commencement ceremonies at Painesville Harvey High School in Painesville, Ohio and Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Walking across the stages at both with classmates and family in attendance was a fulfilling ritual and tradition that honored completion of requisite studies at both levels.
On both occasions I wore the traditional cap and gown. In the context of my work of creating fitting symbols of achievement I investigated how that wardrobe came to be. Wikipedia ( credits owed as well for visuals here ) explained that the origin of robes ( “gowns” ) began in the 13th century in Europe.
Many teachers and professors had clerical associations, so the academic robes were an extension of clergy vestments. You learned also that many professors were priests, monks or clerics and their students were typically studying to do something similar. Additionally, historians pointed out that the garments had a comfort functionality in that buildings and classrooms were unheeded. At some point, universities decreed robes be worn to exclude “excessive dress” … today we have dress codes.
Today, gowns for graduation are similar from school to school with decorative elements added for distinction such as capes, medallions or tassels … with colors distinctive of the particular school’s degrees and traditions. I found a number of guesses about the origin of the graduation “cap”. Some posed that the square shape resembled the shape of a book … or that it resembled the shape of the quad at Oxford. However, everyone seemed to agree that the shape acquired the name “mortarboard” from the resemblance to the flat board used by bricklayers to hold mortar.
Not to diminish the diploma as a graduation keepsake, yet another more decorative symbol of academic stature is a school’s class ring. On this subject I was eager to share my pride in the history and traditions represented by the Texas A&M ring. However, even more impressive, was learning that the tradition of class rings began in 1835 at the United States Military Academy. Today cadets, shortly after the start of their senior year, are presented their rings during a formal dinner and dance for the cadets and their guests. One amazing ring-related tradition at West Point … and The Citadel … is the “ring melt”. Every ring contains an amount of gold melted from class rings donated to the respective school from deceased alumni.
For business symbols of achievement, I’m aware of some traditions in attire such as the bestowing of blazers with pocket or lapel decorations proudly worn during corporate recognition events ( “graduations” ) and annual award banquets. Other “borrowed” symbols from academics is the presentation of medallions with ribbons or display cases. One other parallel is the use of plaques ( “diplomas” ) with artistry and inscription apropos for the achievements in the performance areas of sales, service, quality and safety.
History, traditions and corporate causes add meaning to executive expressions of appreciation. It is important to keep that in mind when designing your your symbols of achievement. Those will be “worth keeping”.